eleven             

            CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG!

            "ARE YOU UP?"

            There is a noticeable change in disposition as the slaves emerge and assemble. The lines they form are straighter. There is no muttering. Alongside Mister Tune, the Master stands and stares, sitting tall, his shoulders squared, his chin unflinching. Shirt, boots, belt, and britches are all he wears. Insomnia has robbed his face of softness, stained his eyes bloodshot, rendered his typically clean-shaven cheeks blue with morning beard.

            "Five, Mister Tune. That is all I require."

            "Just name 'em, Master Squire."

            Zachary scans the ragtag troupe amassed.

            Crude, coarse, thick as cow chips, and lazy to a man. Tune has ruined them with his cruelty—by which they were conditioned: fear the whip, hop to it, shiftlessness un-remedied save beneath the lash... So, un-lashed, they are shiftless in the extreme. Leave these men unpunished, they will not work.

            "Cassius."

            "CASSIUS, STAND OUT."

            "Luke and Eugene."

            "LUKE, STAND OUT. EUGENE, STAND OUT."

            "George and..."

            "GEORGE, STAND OUT."

            "...Cotton."

            "COTTON, STAND OUT."

            Zachary has singled out the fittest. Side by side, he has worked with each before. He has worked with most of the Squire Plantation's labourers. However, in the month since Zachariah's death, Zachary has had to attend to executive affairs, leaving supervision to Mister Tune. Now, "de Massah's son" returns "de Massah"—a key distinction. The men are on their guard; the helm has changed.

            "You boys stay with Master Squire. The rest follow me."

            Tune guides his mount between the ranks—bare feet turning as he passesand leads his sombre squadron toward the fields.

            Zachary stiffens, poised in his authority. These men are all his senior by fifteen, twenty years. They have seen him as an infant, a child, an adolescent, and now as a man—a man committed to enacting certain alterations.

            "Cotton."

            "Yes, suh."

            "Fetch us each a shovel."

            "Yes, suh."

            Cotton heads for the tool shed, not quickly but none too slowly either. The others watch and wait.

            Just look at them. The more their heads are bowed the more peeled their eyes are. One weakness, show one miniscule weakness (how he drilled that into me) and witness sharks in a frenzy (he called the slaves here "sharks").

"Weakness equals blood in the water, son;
show it and the sharks will eat you up alive."